Commentary & Analysis
Success in Printing has not Changed
By Frank J.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: July 14, 2005
By Frank J. Romano "Capital is always waiting for brains." Jun 14, 2005 -- Roy Grossman, president of Sandy Alexander in the NY/NJ area, received the Power of Communications Award at the Association of Graphic Communication 53rd Annual Franklin Event, before a record-setting crowd of over 600 people. His acceptance speech was warm and insightful, and he had a warning as well--printers must stop beating each other up on price. Déja vu all over again. I was in New York City to help organize the Charles Francis Library at the High School of Graphic Communication Arts (the former High School of Printing). Francis donated his personal library in 1940, and it was later moved to the new building on 49th Street and 10th Avenue. In 1916, the Charles Francis Press had 60,000 square feet, did what would be about $40 million in today's dollars, with 300 employees, making them among the top printers in the U.S. His company printed books, magazines, manuals, and color advertising. He said "Capital is always waiting for brains." Here are some quotes from his book, Printing For Profit, published in 1917. "Good printers are not frequently found; good businessmen are much less common; and the combination of a good printer and a good businessman is very rare indeed." "It's hard to understand why so many printers continue to cater to the cheapest class of word, thus compelling them to work for the cheapest class of customer." "No printer can expect to get prices above the general market, lest they can give exceptional quality or extra service, both of which add to cost." "The only way to make money in the printing business is to do work a little better, finish it a little more promptly, and make fewer blunders than others." "Good printers are not frequently found; good businessmen are much less common; and the combination of a good printer and a good businessman is very rare indeed." The lessons of the past always seem to be forgotten In an interesting coincidence, I received e-mail from Joe Rickard, a consultant on sales training (http://www.intellectives.com/). His father-in-law, "Doc" Oakes, acquired the Charles Francis Press in 1941 and merged it with another printer in the 1970s, which merged with another printer, etc. Joe joined our team of volunteers to finger through books and ephemera from the 1860s to the 1940s. Technology was constantly changing, but good business practices went on forever. As we went through this almost ancient archive, we saw many parallels between past and present. We noted that technology was constantly changing, but good business practices went on forever. We learned that price has been an issue since the day the second printer went into business (Gutenberg was first, remember?). Mr. Francis was a tireless promoter for good business practices. At the turn of the last century, printers were starting to realize that integration was a key element of success. Typesetting, engraving, binding, etc., had migrated to trade services, but after 1910, printers began to integrate them and thus began offering more value-added services in order to control more of the job and more of the profit. That allowed savvy printers to compete at a level beyond price--a lesson we can all apply today. We learned that success in the printing industry has always been based on knowing your markets, your costs, your capabilities, and applying them intelligently.